There’s nothing worse than having to let that first cup of morning coffee go cold.

Okay, that’s hyperbolic but if your AM’s so crazy you can’t even keep the java hot, the PM rarely gets better.  And when you’re on wake-up patrol for five poultry, two cats, a middle-schooler, and a spouse you can see where a) coffee comes in handy and b) timing is critical.  On late winter mornings if you get up by six, you can still score some coffee comfort before braving the backyard chill.  The closer it gets to sunrise, however, the more chance a quackfest will start up before recaffeination.  You might even manage a quiet cup as late as 6:30 but you’ll have to creep around a dark kitchen while making it.  (If the ducks don’t see a light they won’t realize you’re hiding from them awake.)

One day for some dumb reason probably related to pre-caffeine thinking, I decided to get the ducks out before coffee rather than after.  This is, of course, a complete reversal of normal practice but what the ducks?  It rarely takes more than a couple of minutes to scoop feed into a bowl, unlock the pen, crack the ice on the water dishes and scurry back inside.  I mean, what could go wrong?*

Lurid orangey purple ribbons wove between still-sleeping branches in the March sky as I crunched across the grass.  Always happy to see anyone bearing breakfast, the birds clucked hello and waddled out to see me.  With the coffee clock counting down, I turned to make my escape when I noticed the ducks had come to attention.  Heads tilted sideways, they stood stock-still with that special “something funny going on here” look.  I quickly scanned the yard for predators.  Sky: no hawks.  Ground: no coyote, raccoon, cougar, foraging locavore…wait!  What’s that creeping along the snowy fence line—black, white-stripe, SKUNK!!!!!!

There goes coffee.

Keeping away from the operating end, I approach the creature at a safe distance and the ducks hang back even further.  We can clearly see it so it must see (at least) me but does that make a difference?  Does a full-grown woman in a garish puffy coat impede or even intimidate?

Of course not.

It comes right into our yard—all at home, as it were.  Makes its methodical way past the composter and the leaf sweeper and heads right to an opening under the deck.  (Ah ha!  That would explain the gnaw/claw marks in the lattice after I propped a bunch of trellises against the broken door.)

I wield a plastic snow shovel like a shield, trying to assess whether Pepé Le Pew will re-emerge or whether he’s just going to bed late after an all-night wooing.  Meanwhile, it’s getting nippy but I’m afraid to retreat and leave the ducks, still low-level vocalizing on the other end of the deck.  I brace for something coming at me, tail first, and wonder fleetingly whether skunks are herbivore, carnivore or omnivore.  Of course, all I should really want to know is whether they eat duck.

After a few minutes with no further appearances by the White Striped, I consider getting the waterfowl back into their pen so I can return to the house without leaving them exposed.  This is, naturally, a non-starter.  They’ve been liberated for the day and refuse to be re-cooped.  Instead, they cluster on the patio still droning their “we’re disturbed” quack.  I hush them—it’s still pretty early– hey, that coffee must be ready by now!—and tell them it’s fine, just stay away from the skunk.  (Right.)  Meanwhile cowardly me** hustles back to the garage where I pull off my boots and head to the coffee pot as the ducks begin quacking even louder.  Guys, guys, guys—too early for choir practice!  I scold them from the doorway but they quiet not one whit.  Venturing out further, I look to see if the skunk has re-emerged.


Resigned to the fact that they won’t settle until I hang out a bit longer, I suit up again in down-filled attire and relinquish the dream of that perfect coffee moment.  And, as we stand together on the frosty patio, ducks alert, human far less so, it hits me that this is possibly the proof I’d been seeking a month or so ago.  In an earlier blog post, I’d discussed the sensory abilities of birds and the fact that we still don’t know everything about duck senses.  So while it’s true that the mere memory of this close-ish skunk encounter might have been enough to keep them on their webbed toes, there’s also one other possibility about ducks and trouble.

Maybe they can smell it.




**What they don’t know is that I’m at least as intimidated as they are.


Copyright 2013, Lori Fontanes